The most senior member of the Catholic Church in Australia was just charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, making him the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in the church’s ongoing sex abuse scandal.
Cardinal George Pell, a top financial advisor to Pope Francis, was charged with “historical sexual offenses” that likely didn’t occur in the recent past (although they could be linked to ongoing investigations). He has repeatedly denied abuse allegations against him.
The cardinal’s criminal charges come at an interesting time for Catholics in Australia, who for the first time ever were overtaken by those who marked “no religion” in the country’s annual census. Many of those “Nones” likely left the Catholic Church, perhaps directly because of the Church’s repeated abuses and intricate cover-ups.
Victoria Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton said Pell, who has been accused of covering up for priests as Archbishop of Melbourne between 1996 and 2001, is being treated just like all the other Catholic officials who have been charged in this unprecedented corruption scheme. There have, as you likely know, been many. He said:
I want to be perfectly clear — the process and the procedures that have been followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offenses whenever we investigate them. Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation.
Patton also encouraged Australian citizens not to convict Pell in the court of public opinion.
It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet… Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process.
These criminal charges are welcome news in a society in which churches and religious institutions so often receive special treatment. Earlier this week, we found out that the man who was beaten by his church congregation for being gay had to beg investigators for two years before they would look into the assault.
The media has suggested this will be a devastating blow to the Catholic Church, but will it? The story of abuse within the Church has been going on for a long time, to the point that I worry it may no longer have an impact on anyone. Why would Cardinal Pell’s situation change your mind about the Church if all the other abusive priests didn’t do it already? That said, what we’re seeing now is that the corruption and abuse reach higher up into the Vatican than we ever imagined.
It’s time for Pope Francis to live up to his stated “no tolerance” policy on sex abuse in the Church and help the authorities in any way he can to hold Pell accountable. The last thing we need is another cover-up.
No further details on the specific charges against Pell have been made publicly available at the time of writing, but this is a developing story. We do know, however, that he’s returning from the Vatican to Australia to fight the charges.
We will keep you updated.
(Screenshot via YouTube)